Reporting under a police state in the West Bank

One day after being interviewed on Beirut-based Al-Quds TV, Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh found himself in a Palestinian Authority detention center. The veteran reporter tells MENASSAT that the situation in the West Bank is at its worst since the PA was established in 1993.
west bank gaza protest
Palestinian security officers guarded a protest by Hamas supporters in the West Bank town of Nablus. The demonstrators opposed Israel's army operations in the Gaza Strip. © AP

BEIRUT, January 29, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Veteran Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh has never been shy to criticize the de facto government in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority.

But Amareyh's arrest on January 18 for "stirring discontent," after criticizing the PA's suppression of Gaza protests in the West Bank in an interview with Beirut-based Al Quds TV, has put all PA-critical journalists on notice: tow the party line or risk jail.

Some 15 journalists have been arrested by PA security forces over the last three months for similar offenses. Most had been highly critical of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, rival to Hamas which was voted to power during 2006 parliamentary elections.

Amayreh, who was been jailed four times by the PA since taking up journalism in the late 1990s, said he was invited "for coffee" by the Palestinian Security Forces (PSF) on January 18.

After arriving at the police station, he was charged with "defamation" and transfered to PA police headquarters until his release on January 20.

"And I never even got my cup of coffee."

Journalist Khalid Amayreh (right) commenting on his release from a Palestinian Authority jail 2 days after the PA invited him in for a "cup of coffee."

In an article in Islamonline, Amayreh recounted his arrest as a 55-hour "nightmarish experience."

Amayreh said he was not physically or verbally abused during six-hours of interrogation, but his family was denied access to him during his detention.

"I was held for two days in a small, semi-dark, rancid-smelling room with two other inmates, one a political prisoner and the other a common law prisoner," he wrote.

"And I never even got my cup of coffee."

Virtual police state

The 52-year-old journalist and father of nine works for several media outlets including Al-Ahram in Egypt and, and is based in the village of Dura, southwest of Hebron in the West Bank.

"Working in the West Bank as an independent journalist has not been this difficult for the last 15 years," Amayreh said.

Amayreh told MENASSAT in an email interview that his arrest was an attempt to silence anyone who challenges the current state of Palestinian affairs. 

"Well, it happened (my arrest) because we are living under a virtual police state, and it is a police state without a real state. Under such circumstances, the 'government' and the 'security agencies' would make sure, as they do, that non-conformist views are suppressed, freedom of speech muzzled, and freedom of expression silenced.

"As to my particular case, the PA didn't want journalists to speak up and tell the truth. For the PA, the truth is too bitter a bill to be swallowed. It is so because the PA has many things to hide from the people."

Asked why Fatah was not allowing large protests in solidarity with the Gaza Strip, Amayreh said during his interview with Al-Quds TV on January 17 that he felt he was stating the obvious.

"It is well known to everyone that the PA is subservient to Israel and that PA civilian and security officials routinely collaborate with the Israeli occupiers. Some Palestinian intellectuals have been referring to the PA as a Palestinian Judenrat."

PA arrests 3 journalists this week

Its no secret that Amayreh has been targeted by both the Palestinian Security Forces and Israel, including an incident in December when the Israeli army detained him at a Hebron checkpoint for his work on Israeli human rights abuse in Palestine.

Last year, Amayreh was summoned for an investigation by the PA intelligence for his reporting. In 1998, he was arrested and jailed for a brief period for his investigation into torture inside some PA detention centers. Both the PA and Israel have interrogated him over an article he wrote about the Palestinian right to return, and how it plays a central role in the conflict. 

After his latest arrest, emails were circulated from media and human rights groups calling for his immediate release.

"I think they released me because of the media and public pressure," Amayreh said.

Despite being targeted by both Israel and the PA throughout his career, Amayreh says he has been more fortunate than other dissident journalists in the West Bank.

"I know some colleagues who have languished in PA jails and solitary confinement cells for several weeks and months. Even as I speak with you now, three correspondents of Al-Quds TV are in jail for reporting things the PA doesn't like.  In short, the PA is a real enemy of press freedom."

This week, three journalists, Ahmad Dikkawi, a correspondent for the London-based al-Quds TV station in Jenin; Samer Khuaira, the Nablus correspondent for the same station, and Issam al-Rimawi, a cameraman with the PA-aligned Palestinian News Agency, Wafa; were all detained by PA security forces, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.

The PA security forces have kept them in jail without charges.

Political tug of war

Meanwhile, Amayreh's arrest has also become the fodder for the factional war between Hamas and Fatah.

Following mutual accusations by both the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Hamas about the arrests of journalists in the Gaza strip, the Hamas government of Gaza brought up the case of Amayreh, claiming that the IFJ never condemned or even mentioned his arrest by the PA.

When asked about the situation of journalists in the Gaza Strip, Amayreh told MENASSAT, "I live in the West Bank, and my information about Gaza comes from the media and some friends there."

He added, "I can't speak with certitude about the status of press freedom in Gaza. But I do think it is not as draconian as it is here. Here the assault on press freedom is systematic as the rule of law is virtually paralyzed."